I haven’t had a lot of sleep over the last two night as I’ve been watching quite a lot of old Twin Peaks episodes. And because I’m sleep deprived while simultaneously trying to follow this beautifully bizarre plot, it got me thinking about Camus’ concept of ‘absurdity’ in comparison.
There’s an automatic presumption around the word ‘absurd’, as a word used to describe that which is odd or strange. For French Algerian existentialist Albert Camus (1913-1960) however, absurdity is found in the mundane and surrounds all aspects of our existence, ‘the Absurd is not in man…nor in the world, but in their presence together’.
He dedicated threes texts to contemplating absurdity; which included a novel (The Outsider), an essay (The Myth of Sisyphus*) and a play (Caligula).
The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) is particularly fascinating and daunting because through its attempt to understand ‘the relationship between the absurd and suicide’ it suggests that absurdity is our only absolute, and that seeking clarity or rationality in our existence is futile, ‘the absurd becomes god…and that inability to understand becomes the existence that illuminates everything’.
Camus compares existence to the mythical tale of Sisyphus who was condemned by the gods to endlessly roll a stone up a hill only to have it continually roll back down.
Now initially this sounds really grim, but what makes this a surprisingly optimistic essay is Camus’ contention that ‘absence of hope (which is not the same as despair)’ and acceptance of the absurd nature of everything, means life is more fully lived, ‘Men who have given up all hope are endowed with a lucid indifference’.
It’s quite beautiful, the idea that life has meaning and is worth living precisely because it has no meaning and full clarity alludes us. There is meaning and depth in ‘the world’s lack of meaning’.
If you are going to try and read all of The Myth of Sisyphus though, be warned it is possibly more hard to follow than Twin Peaks.
[*which dead set I thought was pronounced ‘syphilis’ until I was recently corrected]